International student population increasing

August 27, 2012
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LANSING — The number of international students at some community colleges — including those in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Wayne County — is increasing, according to the Michigan Community College Association.

South Korea, China and India are the top places of origin for these students, and business, health careers and computers are their most popular fields of study.

Evan Montague, dean of student services at Lansing Community College, said the college has a strong international student population, with 400 students from 56 countries among the nearly 20,000 total enrollment.

To ease their transition to a new environment, the college holds an international orientation. LCC also has an international student services coordinator who assists students in connecting with campus academic support, as well as an international student department and an active international student club.

Mike Hansen, president of the Community College Association, said the increasing number of international students can be a tricky proposition.

Some colleges are thinking more strategically about the important role and long-term benefits of increasing international student enrollment, especially through virtual or online programs, Hansen said.

“However, when the college is collecting property tax from its local citizens, it’s hard for that board to say, ‘Yes, we want to bring a lot of new international students.’ Those international students are going to compete for the same slots as the local citizens paying property tax,” Hansen said. “A community college, to me, must meet the needs of its community.”

Tuition for an in-district student at LCC is $79 per hour; the international rate is $276 per hour. Montague said the difference in tuition is an advantage to students of the community college district.

“All students have an equal opportunity to access all the courses offered at our college. The rates for those outside of the tax district account for most of the balancing,” he added.

The situation at Oakland Community College, however, presents a different trend. According to George Cartsonis, director of college communications, the number of international students in 2002 was 1,000, but currently it is only 500. Cartsonis said a main factor is the depressed state economy, making Michigan a less desirable place to study, and that it is less expensive to pursue higher education and learn English in some other places.

In addition, the college’s lack of student housing might be a contributor, he said.

In contrast, Angela Zainea, international student advisor at Grand Rapids Community College, said more international students are applying for the fall semester. Even so, she said they are only a small percentage of the overall student population.

“We only have 35 active international students out of 18,000 total population for our winter 2012 semester,” Zainea said.

Even though relatively small in number, Zainea said the international population is highly valued at GRCC.

“They bring a unique perspective and distinct knowledge to the academic and social activities that they engage in because of their international background, experience and specific culture,” she said. “Having a diverse student body enriches the experience of all students.”

Chancellor Curtis Ivery of the Wayne County Community College District offered a similar positive viewpoint about international students.

“We value diversity and seek multiple perspectives to prepare our students for the global environment in which they will work and live,” Ivery said. “We also recognize that our international students enrich the educational experience of our academic community, increase our global awareness and provide cross-cultural interactions among us.”

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